Africa-Press – Rwanda. IN 2008, a then National University of Rwanda student Felix Habimana used his drawing skills and made a genius artistic photo of his favorite American rapper Jay-Z. The photo is still in the archives of Habimana’s ex-roommate, Desire Tuyishimire, from which the duo developed an idea to build KGL fashion brand.
Tuyishimire, 35, had a strange impression about a NYC logo that was marked on Jay-Z’s flat cap in Habimana’s artwork and he started thinking of how best they could design a different logo that would represent Kigali just like NYC represents New York City or LA does for Los Angeles and so forth.
Apparels marked with such logos were so popular worldwide not just by their design but for the cities to also attract so many visitors from across the globe, an idea that intrigued Habimana and inspired him to discover a similar context for Rwanda’s capital.
“He [Habimana] was a gifted artist and when I looked at the artwork, I was like ‘if we see inscriptions of cities becoming as popular as has been the case of New York, Los Angeles or Paris, why can’t Rwanda’s capital have its own as a way to promote our country and our city in particular for tourism purposes?’,” recalls Tuyishimire.
As the duo were preparing for life after university, they started to bank on the idea from humble beginnings and came up with KGL to represent Kigali.
Shortly after graduating from university in 2012, they developed the logo from the fashion perspective and started their own fashion label which officially started operations in Kigali in 2014.
They started by making caps designed with the logo which impressed so many people that orders suddenly started to increase. The KGL branded caps quickly became people’s favorite, especially celebrities like video director Meddy Saleh who promised to support them in terms of promoting the brand.
People tend to quickly see KGL as a logo that represents Kigali but the logo has a different meaning in its nature, as an acronym of Kigali Guardian for Life, the company behind the fashion brand.
“Having realised that our capital is changing positively in different aspects, we thought of establishing this brand as part of playing our role, as youth, to act as guardians of what our city is achieving,” he explained.
The brand started with caps but later expanded to other apparels and, to date, the fashion line’s showroom is home to hoodies, caps, t-shirts, sandals and carpets among other fashion products.
The business has been doing well over the years as it continues to claim admiration from local and international customers who have been purchasing the apparels of KGL brand.
That prompted the duo to quit their jobs to shift focus on growing the brand. Tuyishime has been working in the bank since 2012 but he decided to quit the job in 2020 to focus on working on the promotion and expansion of the brand whose showroom is located in Remera.
“The past six years were a tough experience. We have been building a foundation of the brand and the way people showed love for the brand motivated us to give it our all,” Tuyishimire said.
“The brand is growing both in Rwanda and outside the country but we can’t sit and say we ‘have made it’ because we still have a lot to do to make it big,” he added.
As days go by, the entrepreneurs are now looking to build a brand that will in the future appear on belts, sportswear for men, women and kids, back bags, umbrella and other items as long as people may like them.
Tuyishimire says they have a vision to turn KGL into a brand that will in the future conquer the global market just like Gucci, Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton and other big fashion brands do nowadays.
“We want to see Rwandans, Africans and the world community wearing the brand but the most important, is to see them driven by the pride of the brand,” he said.
For him, it may take years, but he believes that KGL will one day hit the top and become a go-to renowned fashion brand from across the globe as the duo looks forward to building a brand that will remain for generations.
“I believe this brand will stay for many years. I dream to see a brand made in Rwanda competing with other big fashion brands on the market worldwide,” he said.
I will see how far it grows while I am alive until we leave it to our children who will also leave it to future generations. But, my hope is that the brand remains for generations and generations,” he added.
Battling brand piracy
KGL brand’s biggest threat has in recent years been piracy as a number of people continue to use the brand in their own interests without the owners’ consent.
Tuyishimire says that they had a number of cases involving people who they found copying the KGL brand logo and producing their clothing designs, a serious concern that made them worry about the future of their brand.
“They don’t care whether they use it badly for their designs but it affects our brand reputation at the end of the day and they get the money that we were supposed to harvest from our brand goes into their pockets,” he claimed.
It really hurts. We’ve been building KGL since 2008 and it cost us so much time and resources throughout these years now to get the brand where it stands now. They are copying our brand and it is not acceptable. It’s against the law,” he added.
An original KGL brand apparel is designed with a logo and an etiquette marked with 1907, a year in which Kigali was founded. Tuyishimire warned that they won’t tolerate anyone who copies their brand and hinted that legal action will be taken against whoever is found infringing the brand’s patent.
“We are planning to take legal action against those who do such unlawful actions in line with intellectual property rights. The law is there to protect us but its implementation needs to be enforced,” he said.
Some cases, he said, were solved in an amicable way but there is a need to enforce the charges to avoid similar cases in the future. “If those who illegally copy our brand are penalized,” he said. Some of the branded designs by KGL.